Al Costa: The Recycling Model Has Failed and Needs a Complete Revamp

October 3, 2022
by

Al Costa From tekntrash.ai

What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?

Above all, that we are all in the same boat. The difficulties, errors, missteps, etc. we find in others and which complicate our lives also have and are only enhanced if we point them out in others.

Life then becomes easier when we just learn to forgive and to live with complicated people, procedures, snags, etc. Forgiveness is just financially sound.

If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

The one I just said! 😀

A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?

I used to have that problem until I found out that whenever I put work in front of my family, the particular task I was working on that took priority would always misteriously fail.

So, now it is family first, not only for me but everyone in the company, and managers who disagree will be invited to look for opportunities elsewhere.

At the end, I understood we are responsible for the next generations, and we do that through our children and not through our work.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

I am a biologist and I hate recycling. I only do it because it is important for the environment.

But I put myself in the shoes of many who have more pressing issues, and always asked myself why is this a stick rather than a carrot model in which if you recycle nothing happens, but if you don’t you get punished.

The end result is that only 6% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled. Eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year. 11% of all the methane in the atmosphere already comes from trash, and methane is 88 times stronger than CO2 for global warming.

So, clearly, the recycling model has failed and needs a complete revamp. And the reason is that the entire model is based on a financially unsustainable model, which also generates no interest from the general population.

We are thus on a mission to change that through a model based on data, and for that we created Stipra, which is the world’s first reward system for proper recycling.

Stipra obtains data from an app which is ready and available for Android and IOS, and from “StipraBins”, which are smart bins and are in a prototype (can be seen working at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfEZmZ7ZjpM).

Both the app and the bins recognise products and award points for products companies want Stipra to locate after being sold in order to identify untapped sales spots and many other marketing actions, and in the case of the bins, they also recycle automatically, allowing companies, institutions, etc. to lower their carbon footprint.

What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?

That is based on data. “Competitors” are based on legislation, on the sales of products such as plastic, paper, glass, etc., and both are cumbersome and pay little.

However, data has been named “the new oil” because of its importance and value. That allows us to generate enough income to effectively reward people for recycling properly, totally changing the status quo.

How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you are just starting out?

Every new model (as Stipra) is first misunderstood, and once finally understood, it is seen as distrusted.

I also saw that with my first company (founded at age 5 and sold first to one from NASDAQ), which was an e-commerce consulting company, at first, companies did not understand what e-commerce was, and when they finally did, they thought we were only trying to push them some garbage.

I learned that the best solution is to let them know quite clearly that you do not need their business and that you can just go to their competitors.

And if what you are offering is unique and no one has it (as is the case now with TeknTrash), they have no option but to listen respectfully, and that is a huge advantage.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?

Getting a team People, as they go up the scale, have increased expectations and decreased commitments.

So, if you only look for the best résumés, you end up with expensive people who leave at the smallest bump.

And the life of a startup is like a rollercoaster with reduced benefits, so they are clearly unsuitable. So, I end up bringing in people who are always there regardless of their résumés.

In fact, I quit reading resumés and just set up a coffee date to get to know candidates, as there is nothing like an eye-to-eye to see what the person can offer and how long he will stay.

What do you think are the advantages of operating your business in London?

London is a major financial hub and, thus, the number of investors, companies, institutions, etc. is huge. That allows a company to win simply by statistics.

In other words, if you persist, you will succeed simply because at some point you will hit a jackpot. That is very encouraging: that you do not depend only on quality but also quantity.

Here, I remember Windows 3.11. It was a garbage system when compared to the Mac OS, but affordable and simple.

And with time, it evolved to Windows 10, and in the process, acquired over 90% of the OS market.

Don’t feel so bad if your product or pitch does not have the quality companies and investors expect, as in huge markets such as London, there will always be others who find it OK.

Are there any issues with having a London-based business? Have you experienced these?

Transportation is a nightmare. Our offices are located in One Canada Square, which is a beautiful building.

However, I only go there for important meetings as it takes me one hour and a half by train and tube from where I live (Banstead).

How has the higher than UK average cost of living impacted your ability to work and live in London, and how has this also impacted your ability to be an employer?

My dad was a diplomat, and I lived in poor countries. There, you learn quite well how to extract juice from the last penny, and that comes in extremely handy in expensive places.

Also, it puts you in a better stance than people who were born in those places and are unable to do things without a lot of resources.

London is known to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the true definition of a ‘cosmopolitan city’. Has this had any impact on your business?

Yes, it has, and in a very positive way. I am proud that our team is extremely diverse: our app designer is from Turkey, our web designer is from Nigeria, our ESG Director is from Iran and actually a political refugee (his dad was shot by the Ayatollah regime), even I have dual citizenship (Spain and Brazil), etc.

And we all bring our respective cultures, visions, understandings, etc to the table, so many times when one is unable to solve a problem due to his background not having been exposed to it, the other has, and thus the problem is solved!

If you had to relocate your business to another city in the UK, which one would it be and why?

I guess Brighton. There is a local university which offers a lot of support, and the beach is always an incentive! 😀

How has Brexit impacted your business (if at all)?

It has made bringing in talent more difficult.

The amount of paperwork, proof of need, requirements, etc. to bring people from abroad has increased to the point where it is many times better just to keep the person living in his own country and working remotely and pay him over PayPal or something like that.

This, however, creates a limit in terms of how far we can get people; otherwise we may end up with people unable to, for example, attend meetings due to their time differences.

What is your vision for your company in the next 5 years?

To be, like a journalist in Spain called us, the “Facebook of trash”: a community of millions of users actively recycling and being awarded for it. We are also fundraising to implement 10 thousand StipraBins across the UK and US, where we have offices.

And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?

We are always open to people who are passionate about data and the environment. This is a total must, as anyone who has worked with me knows I expect a lot from people and will settle for nothing but the best. As such, typical 9 to 5 bureocrats will not live long in this company. They can just send me an email to [email protected] and I will usually answer within minutes.

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